five quick things I think you’ll like

I'm doing something fun and geeky this morning, but I need to close some tabs before I can really get into it, so I'd like to tell you all that John Scalzi's book Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, for which I wrote the introduction, is now available in trade paperback. I genuinely loved this book, and they even quoted me on the back:

John also wrote an absolutely brilliant dark fantasty novella called The God Engines, which recently became available. He put the first chapter on his blog for everyone to enjoy.

Remember John Carpenter's The Thing? It's one of my favorite Sci-Fi movies of all time, and I just loved reading a story from The Thing's point of view.

I found some basic advice to self-published authors from a book publicist. This is getting printed out and added to my personal reference library.

Finally, in the comments to my last post, reader Michael asked:

As a writer, do you find yourself looking at the world a bit differently than before? Do you catch yourself being a bit more observational — trying to take in all of a given place/scene/moment instead of just "being" somewhere? Have you caught yourself running through the description of a place in your head?

I answered:

All artists are compelled to do what we do, whether it's music or storytelling or painting or whatever. I don't know what it's like for other artists, but I'm only happy when I'm creating things. A big part of creating things as a writer is staying open and observant, so when I need to create something for a reader, I have memories and experiences to draw upon. This is especially important as a narrative non-fiction writer, where I can't just make something up to bridge a gap or make a story better.

I struggle sometimes to find a balance between just "being" somewhere and mentally recording what it's like to be there, butI don't really have a choice in the matter; I was doing this as an actor long before I was a writer, because I needed to have as big a mental library as possible to aid in the creation and realization of characters, and I'll keep on doing it until my last breath, I imagine.

But, to answer your question more directly: on the one hand, staying observant and really keeping all of my senses as heightened and open as I can is just part of my life, but on the other hand, it *can* make me feel like I'm the guy with the video camera who is in the room, but not really part of what everyone is doing.

I'm reprinting it here because it's a a fairly frequently-asked question, but also because I want to hear if other writers/actors/creators feel the same way.

Okay, I'm off to get my geek on. I should have something geeky and awesome to show off later today.

63 thoughts on “five quick things I think you’ll like”

  1. I do feel that way. I feel stifled in every aspect of my life if I’m not creating something on an at least semi regular basis. Fortunately, being a GM helps fill this need as I get to tell stories.
    As for the video camera comment, absolutely. I was awkward and shy growing up (middle child of nine), so I would often sit back and observe people interacting with the world and each other to figure out how things worked. As a teen, I’d sit back and watch people for a while to see what made them laugh so they’d not immediately turn away when I approached. Now, it’s habit, and I do it for creative inspiration and the like, but it is almost always a matter of being the guy with the camera.

  2. I write creative ideas for kids…which doesn’t make me a real writer but I have some creativity going on. I think my creativity comes almost at the cost of forgoing ‘down to earthness’, being really practical, being good at noticing details, and existing in the now and really ‘present’ – which is fine…I like the fairies I am away with. A creative mind can observe a little and then extrapolate expansively and fluidly – detaching from what’s right in front of it – that’s the whole point. The buck never stops with just the reality!
    However, I would guess there is a more immediate, less cloud cuckoo land creativity also…… painting, taking photos, sculpting….art that needs people to be really ‘there’
    That’s quite enough….time to land and have a cup of tea

  3. I find it very hard to “turn off” the analytical side, especially when playing games. I spend so much time writing and podcasting about games, it can be hard to just shut out that little voice and let myself play and enjoy a game for what it is.

  4. Wil, I feel like this, too – that because I’m a writer that I’m observing a lot and not really a part of what is happening. Partially I think this is because I’m somewhat introverted, but I think it’s mostly because I like to see how people interact and really listen to the stories they tell. I’d rather write my ideas than impart them verbally.
    Sometimes I wish I could shut my observant nature off, ie. I’m mentally composing a blog entry or a film review when I should just be having the experience or watching the damn film. But I know my watching and listening is what makes me a good writer, so I put up with it.

  5. I’m one of those geeks who studied plate tectonics and planetary ecology in order to make my D&D worlds more realistic.
    I don’t know if Dungeon Mastery qualifies as true artistry, but as a writer, a musician, and a lifetime DM, I find the absorption of my environment a critical key to inspiration. It’s important to be open to everything… one of the most beautiful guitar pieces I ever wrote was inspired by a flock of birds, while one of my most moving rock tunes was one night in a little blues bar while I was waiting to hit the stage.
    Whether existing in the moment or expanding my visual vocabulary, it can sometimes be a little surreal. I suppose that’s why I worked so hard to overcome my social anxiety issues when I was younger… I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to experience new things.

  6. “In the room, but not really a part of what everyone is doing”
    This really struck me. I am a photographer, I love the fact that my addiction for observation can be covered with a lens, and thus seem less creepy… :) I love my camera, because it gives me permission to be places, that normally, I wouldn’t go. I love that it grants me an “all access pass” lots of times and it means, I don’t have to sit and listen to what everyone else is watching–I can watch them!
    I have noticed that lens literally blocks me from some of what’s happening in the room. For the past two years, I have volunteered with an organization where we take portraits of dying babies and their parents. I can get through the session and do my job. When I look at the images later, it rips me up. I think the task of capturing it at the time (being observant like a writer) keeps me from feeling the emotions, but then later when I see the way the parents are looking at the baby or a smile through tears, it hits me.
    So being an artist can remove you from the actual Sturm and Drang sometimes, but then lots about being an artist can make you feel alone! (I think that artists perceive the world differently than most normal folks.)

  7. It’s so reassuring to know that other people feel the same way! I’m a graphic designer/maker of quirky things, and I find myself constantly doing this same thing. I was ridiculously observant from an early age and tried to take mental pictures of feelings, details, moods, colors. For a while during college I used to carry a camera everywhere and try to document things in a more “normal” way, which never captured what I’d have liked and drove my husband insane. I have since given that up but find that during my most uninspired times getting out and just experiencing/observing life in a busy place is the best fuel.

  8. Oh, those are pretty! Well done! I really like the one of the young woman. Cleverly posed! It looks both candid and makes a nice portrait.
    I know exactly what you’re saying. I have no training or anything like that and I don’t have the nicest equipment (I can’t justify buying it for how often I would really use it), but I do enjoy capturing things I see. I remember an image of a homeless man sleeping on the street in Cleveland, Ohio, like it was yesterday, even though I didn’t get a picture. He was just so beautiful, even in that state, that he stuck with me. In that moment, at about fifteen years old, I wanted a camera in my hand more than anything.
    That’s how it is for me. I just see things and want to preserve them because they speak to me. Other people might like them or not, you know? But they speak to me.
    Here’s a few that I’ve gotten lately.

  9. I had the immense pleasure of presenting one of the Hugos in Montreal (not John’s, however) and I recall every announcement bar one was greeted with massive applause.

  10. As a fiction writer, a designer of intangibles (like light) and creator of artisany stuff / art:
    I prefer to think of writing as occuring in bursts, binges almost: the ideas, the urges, the observations… they are threads zipping by you, and some are strong enough to be considered rope and therefore there’s a chance you can latch onto one and enjoy the ride. It phases you out of “reality” while you’re whipping along at warp 9, but the places it takes you are sometimes worth it.
    Sometimes you can disregard the smaller threads, or even sustain that attitude for a week or so…. but there are some meaty ropes, passing trains as one person has put it, that instinct simply won’t let you ignore.
    My biggest complaint is that the muse, the genius, doesn’t always cater to my schedule or energy level. Ex: In the middle of a big 3 day family reunion I had to excuse myself and write. Just simply HAD to thumbnail the rough idea before it passed me by.
    While I disagree with her take on the nature and role of a higher power in things, Elizabeth G does a nice take on the subject of creativity and the muse called “genius” here:

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